Buckshot and I had a very exciting Sunday. It was very cold here in Virginia, but at least it was sunny and no rain or snow fell from the skies! We went to the reining trainer’s farm for a clinic and had a great time! There was a very small group of horses and riders – just five, plus the trainer. And the footing in his arena was perfect- soft and sandy. After getting mounted on Buckshot, Buckshot started out with a purposeful walk as we warmed up. He seemed very happy to be there. We walked and did some small circles and after our twenty minutes of warm up walking, we trotted. He trotted with energy and enthusiasm. Good boy!
For the clinic, the trainer detailed a specific reining pattern that we would each perform. For those who planned to compete, he would be able to see their weaknesses and call out the reasons for various penalties. As a horse and rider performed the pattern, Buckshot and I (and the other horses) stood at the side and watched. I focused on memorizing the pattern, and kept going over it in my mind. I love to do patterns, as we do in our Saturday classes, and reining patterns are even more wonderfully challenging because they are much longer, and we have a much larger arena to use, so there is more space to ride the pattern. I love it and Buckshot loves it.
But I had learned an epiphany several weeks ago when the trainer said, You lose 50% of your training the minute you step in the show pen. He means that nerves and jitters cause everyone to forget things, perhaps even whole segments of the pattern. On Sunday, I remembered that and remembered that I had promised myself to really focus with a vengeance on the pattern details, so that I wouldn’t just let my brain go to mush while waiting, and find that I lost half of my training when my turn came to ride. So, I focused and memorized. After a few minutes I realized I was getting confused because we watchers were facing the rider doing the pattern, so their left lead was moving out to our right. And vice versa. So I stopped watching and focusing, instead I focused on the version of it seen in my head.
Rider and after rider performed the pattern, nearly flawlessly, I thought. Then it was our turn. Buckshot and I walked to the center point, faced the trainer and riders, and began. First a left lead canter from a walk, which we can do just fine. Then canter a large circle, coming around to a specific area at the center of the arena, and back around to the left for another large circle. Before hitting the center point, I looked for the trainer (he was standing at exactly the center line)to steer to the exact center line. Then a smaller circle to the left, then back to the center and stop. I yelled, “Break! Anddd whoa!” and we stopped.
Next were two small circles to the left. We don’t do actual spins, so the trainer allows us to do just a few small circles. We did them fine. Then get a right lead canter from the walk. I exaggerated the aids, raising my right (inside) rein high and tapping with my left leg, and we got the correct canter I think. I steered as best as I could, and came around again to hit the exact center line. And again, around to the right, where Buckshot changed leads on me, so I changed the aids to get the right lead again, and even though we weren’t making nice big circles, I tried to hit the center line and then start him on a small right lead circle. At that point we were trotting, but we came around to the correct place on the center line, and I said “Whoa!”
We then did two small circles to the right, our version of spins. Then stopped.
Next was a big figure eight. We started with a left lead canter from the walk, which we got easily, and we went around a nice big canter circle to the left. Again, we found the center line, and somehow I cued for the right lead and we were off (I don’t really know if we got the correct lead, I was just focused on steering, but the trainer didn’t yell anything so I guess we got it)!
We hit the center line again, broke to a trot and I cued for the left. We got it, and a few strides later, we took an actual left turn, crossed the arena, and another left turn to head down the long side of the arena, off the rail about ten feet. After going halfway down, I yelled “Break aaaaand Whoa!” to give Buckshot a cue to bring him to a stop. We don’t do sliding stops like real reiners do, we just do regular stops. It takes Buckshot several strides to come to a stop from his powerful canter so I try to give him as much advance warning as possible by saying both “break! aaand whoa!” He came to a stop on his tippy toes.
We then did a roll-back and turn around, going immediately into a canter, and canter to the end of the arena, across, and back down the other side, followed by another “Break, anddddd whoa.” Then another rollback and right into the canter, back down, across, and back down the long side again. By this time, we were both dead tired, but I thought “dig deep!” for both Buckshot and I, and we did. He cantered down the last side with full energy. Another stop, and the last maneuver was backing up for a few strides. This is the last thing, I said to him, as we wearily, but successfully backed up.
And we were done.
Wow! We were both spent. Buckshot’s head drooped as we walked back to the crowd, and the trainer whooped out praise to us! And the crowd clapped for us!! I was so, so touched!! It was the best ride and best full reining pattern Buckshot and I had ever done, I knew that. I was enormously proud of him! And I was so proud of both of us.
The fact that the trainer gave us so many compliments was just wonderful. It was a blue ribbon day! We were tired, but filled with the warm glow of having seen a lot of our practice come together, and of both of us digging deep to keep going full out when the pattern turned exhausting. And to get such compliments after it – from mostly riders who have professional reining horses – was just icing on the cake. What a day!! What a ride!! What a wonderful horse Buckshot is!!
No matter what you did with your horse, I hope it was a “blue ribbon ride” also!